Vagneur: A setting familiar and fresh |

Vagneur: A setting familiar and fresh

Tony Vagneur
Saddle Sore
Tony Vagneur

We arrived early, around 8:15 a.m., into the fresh mountain air on a warm, clear, May morning. Castle Creek rumbled down its course with a deliberate, spring-sounding roar, still reasonably translucent, with promise for a good runoff through the summer.

The lower campus was a hub of activity as invited guests (grandparents and special friends) sorted out our positions, while hugs, handshakes, and smiles were exchanged, name tags affixed to our breasts, and we settled in for a short program showing off the public speaking skills of some of our grandchildren. Third-graders, no less, and they were good. My grandson Cash and I acknowledged each other out of the corners of our eyes with almost invisible smiles. 

Some of us headed to the music room, following our charges, third-grade teacher Caitlin my guide, which meant a short walk alongside the rumbling creek on a well-designed concrete path, up a flight of stairs, and voila, there a group of students warmed up on recorders and violins. Violins? Tears welled up behind my eyes, and my heart filled with appreciation as the low sounds of the violins, some long, some almost staccato, accompanied the recorders, making a wondrous, orchestral sound.  

Cash’s maternal great-great grandmother’s violin is safely ensconced at my house, as is my dad’s violin that he took on cattle drive excursions in the mountains to play around the campfire. 

The generational pull of Aspen Country Day School’s spot along Castle Creek runs deep. As a teenager, my paternal grandmother, an amateur Aspen photographer, took photos of the very spot in 1916-17. 

On my first visit to the site of today’s campus, I was 4 or 5 years old. The first Copper Kettle Restaurant was located in one of the old buildings overlooking the pond. My grandfather had business there and took me along. 

He left me alongside the pond with a fishing pole, staring at the huge fish coming up to see what I had to offer. After a bit, I managed to hook one (or perhaps it was the other way around), although it was much bigger than I could handle, and Gramps and someone from the restaurant came out to help me land the monster. Wisely, we returned it to the pond for reasons gourmets everywhere understand. 

My head now filled with sounds from the music room, the Burtard grandparents in our family and I walked back to the classrooms, my turn to visit with granddaughter Charli, and theirs to visit with Cash. 

Shelley, the kindergarten teacher, recognized me right off and gave a heads up to Charli, who looked up with an appreciative smile and returned to her project, a drawing of nature. She was at a table with two other kids, each intent on their work. Charli invited me to sit down in the vacant chair next to her, child-size. I witnessed art work in creation and then watched as the pros they already are at this young age put their latest conceptions into folders containing earlier creations. 

There’s something about watching young children draw or paint scenes from nature or the landscape and their interpretations of what they see. They don’t see reality in the same constricted sense that most adults do. Drawings are representations of expressions used with all the tools of innocence. Maybe they don’t draw an animal as you and I see it, but they draw the essence of the animal as it exists in their world. That is art.  

My childhood colleagues and I went to school on the bank above the Roaring Fork River, above Hallam Lake, in that building now affectionately known as the Red Brick Center for the Arts. Grades 1-12, it somehow all worked, and we mostly got along. The row of healthy cottonwoods along Hallam Street gave us a secure feeling behind them, and if we had a south-facing classroom, the view of Aspen Mountain relieved a lot of childhood stress. And fueled a lot of daydreams. We were blessed.

And this week, as I walked from classrooms to music rooms to lunch rooms on the Aspen Country Day School campus along the banks of Castle Creek, experiencing a day in the life of my grandchildren, I’m confident they are getting an excellent education, but also know for that reason, I am blessed, once again.

Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at